Ensure Access to Nutritious Food through a Food Systems Approach

Ensure Access to Nutritious Food through a Food Systems Approach

Meeting the food needs of 9 billion people by 2050 will require increasing agricultural productivity in combination with other factors such as improving the nutritional quality of families’ diets. Targeting investments in agricultural research and extension, protecting natural resources and the environment, ensuring producers’ profitability and workers’ wellbeing, and developing the infrastructure necessary to support a strong food and agriculture sector are critical steps to ensure the availability of abundant and nutritious food for all. AGree believes that many of the tools and solutions already exist. What is needed is the initiative to undertake cross-discliplinary and multi-institutional partnerships to tackle the complex challenges that span the food and agriculture system.

Good nutrition is critical to health. In the United States, four of the leading causes of death—heartdisease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes—are diet-related and cause millions of people hardship and expense1 while contributing to mounting healthcare costs. Today, more than one-third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of U.S. children are obese and highly vulnerable to early-onset chronic disease.2 At the same time, hunger presents another well-established public health risk, with over 50 million Americans suffering from food insecurity, including 8.6 million children.3 Over one-third of America’s food-insecure families and individuals are not eligible for any form of government assistance, so they rely on the charitable food assistance network.4

Beyond U.S. shores, more than 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day, and many families spend up to 80 percent of their incomes on food.5 Many developing country subsistence farmers struggle to grow enough food to eat, yet increasing urbanization and rising incomes have led to the growth in these countries of many diet-related health problems found in the United States.6

Policy and program interventions that can improve the performance of food systems and their capacity to supply nutritious food are similar in the United States and developing countries: more productive and cost-efficient agricultural operations, better design and management of post-harvest processing and storage to reduce product loss and boost nutritional value, and more efficient and extensive infrastructure that increases access to fresh foods. Public and private investments in this arena, for all participants in the system, will generate jobs and economic growth, helping to boost families’ incomes and access to food. Changes in the food manufacturing sector and associated retailing and promotional practices, together with consumer education to increase food knowledge and skills for navigating food environments, can set the stage for more healthful dietary patterns in the population. And publicly supported and charitable supplementary food programs provide a food safety net for poor and vulnerable populations.

AGree’s 2013 Positions

Preserve and Strengthen the Federal Safety Net
  • Maintain the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) responsiveness to national and local economic conditions, its important role in alleviating food insecurity among the nation’spoor, and its ability to help struggling individuals and families move out of poverty. Protect SNAP from detrimental funding cuts and harmful structural changes that would undermine the program’s ability to serve the food insecure.
  • Support sufficient funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, Food Distribution for Child Nutrition Program, and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations to ensure adequate nutrition for low-income pregnant and new mothers, infants, children, and Native Americans.
  • Ensure a resilient charitable food safety net by increasing funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and providing adequate funding for distributing TEFAP commodities to people in need.
  • Support provisions in the Older Americans Act, providing nutrition services, nutrition education, and food access to older Americans, sourced locally where possible. Support provisions in the farm bill for Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (SFMNP).
  • Support the full implementation and enforcement of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and efforts to increase utilization by eligible children.
  • Support incentives to promote off-grade produce harvesting, food recovery, and donations by producers, manufacturers, restaurants, and retailers, among others.

Build Vibrant and Responsive Local and Regional Food Systems in the United States
  • Support regional food system approaches that help all sizes and types of food and agriculture operations.
  • Support increased flexibility in the National School Meals programs to facilitate procurement of local, healthy foods and integration with nutrition education programs that are culturally appropriate.
  • Support cost-effective new technologies to facilitate the use of all federal nutrition program benefits at farmers’ direct markets.
  • Support policies to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP program participants through programs such as Double Up Food Bucks.

Support Strong Local and Regional Markets in Developing Countries
  • Fully integrate food aid programs into Feed the Future’s agriculture development approach.
  • Support efforts that create enabling environments for agricultural investment by leveraging commitments from a broad range of critical food sector stakeholders, including government, businesses, industry producer organizations, and nongovernmental organizations.
  • Support increased nutritional value of food aid products and local and regional sourcing.
  • Support increased use of the Community Development Fund mechanism to reduce use of food aid monetization practice.

Achieving Transformative Change Over the Long Term

Strengthen food systems in the United States and globally to ensure permanent access to nutritious food for all populations and reduced risk for diet-related disease.

At home, AGree will promote actions that ensure access to nutritious food domestically through a food systems approach—

Explore ways to integrate nutrition into the federal safety net: Responsive federal assistance programs should ensure adequate nutrition for vulnerable families. AGree will convene representatives from the public health and anti-hunger communities to assess the state of knowledge about the impacts of existing policy and programs on food insecurity and diet-related disease and explore whether and how new research, policies, and programs can better support improved outcomes related to these public health problems.

Identify and amplify behavior-based innovations: AGree will highlight approaches that increase the demand for healthy and nutritious food and improve dietary behaviors for all populations. Innovations should involve public and private sector strategies that address obesity and diet-related disease, bolster food and nutrition literacy, and support agricultural programs and policies that provide health related incentives along the supply chain.

Strengthen regional food systems: AGree will identify and support strategies that help producers of all sizes, including beginning and small-scale operators, develop regional markets that serve all populations, and improve local and regional business climates. Local and regional food system activities should lead to positive outcomes such as increasing consumers’ ability to access fresh, nutritious food; improving food literacy and dietary practices; driving economic growth and social justice; and improving livelihoods.

Overseas, AGree will support U.S. foreign aid programs that increase global food security and integrate assistance with trade policy, local agricultural development, and family nutrition—

Focus assistance on improving the food security of the poor: U.S. food aid should be targeted to countries where people are most vulnerable and should provide resources to improve both the quantity and nutritional quality of food.

Increase commitment to foster resilient food systems in developing countries: U.S. development aid should support local farmers’ ability to meet their country’s food needs and also enter into global markets. This includes strengthening food system institutions such as farmer organizations to empower smallholder farmers, business groups of processors and distributors, and policy reform institutions to identify infrastructure and privatization priorities. The U.S. and E.U. must re-evaluate their policies that impede trade, better align policies across jurisdictions, and leverage private sector expertise to invest in the expansion of agriculture and food systems in the developing world. In particular, bridges must be built across existing programs to integrate food and agriculture with education, health, nutrition, and community economic development efforts.

Target science and technology support to help producers meet demand: U.S. investments should focus on agricultural research for development that will help producers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, increase production, and successfully bring products to local, regional, and global markets. Public institutions, including U.S. universities and land grant institutions and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the private sector, and NGOs should cooperate to strengthen research and extension capacity in developing countries and use the most appropriate technologies to make information widely available.

Ensure women are recognized and fully supported as farmers and food preparers: As they often are responsible both for farm production and food preparation within their households, women are critical for meeting development objectives and for improving food security and nutrition within households. Women are vital for achieving improved food security for the poor and building resilient food systems in developing countries. Therefore, improvements in science and technology should be targeted at both women and men farmers, as should information that enhances women’s productivity and ability to provide nutritious food to their families.

Although all the individuals formally affiliated with AGree may not agree completely with every statement noted, they are committed to working together to find solutions to the challenges facing food and agriculture. For citations, please visit http://foodandagpolicy.org/sites/default/files/AGree_position_citations.pdf

View or download a PDF version of the Ensure Access to Nutritious Food through a Food Systems Approach position paper.